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India's Gas Centrifuge Programme

India's Gas Centrifuge Programme

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Published by: nao on Jan 18, 2008
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India’s Gas Centrifuge Enrichment Program:Growing Capacity for Military Purposes
 David Albright and Susan Basu
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 Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS)January 18, 2007
Since the 1970s, India has pursued gas centrifuges to enrich uranium. The history andcurrent status of India’s gas centrifuge program has been a long-held state secret. Nonetheless, ISIS sought to trace the history of India’s centrifuge enrichment programand assess its current and projected enrichment capacity based on open sources,information from interviews with Indian and other government officials, and publiclyavailable procurement data.The Indian Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) commissioned India’s main enrichment plant, codenamed the Rare Materials Project (RMP), around 1990. In addition to a gascentrifuge facility, this site, located about 19 kilometers from Mysore, may also contain auranium hexafluoride production facility. By 1997, after several years of difficulty, Indiaseems to have achieved a technical breakthrough at RMP. Although India hasexperienced difficulties in building centrifuges, it now appears to be competent atconstructing centrifuges comparable to those common in Europe in the 1970s. Our conclusion is that India is currently operating between 2,000 and 3,000 centrifuges at theRMP. The DAE is currently attempting to expand the number of centrifuges at RMP by3,000, increasing RMP’s capacity by at least 15,000 separative work units (SWU) per year, a common measure of the output of a uranium enrichment plant and more thandouble its current output. Further expansions in capacity are expected.The Indian government has proposed to designate its gas centrifuge enrichment facilities,such as RMP, as military sites under the framework of US-India nuclear cooperation.Thus, India is unlikely to use these facilities to create fuel for the Tarapur boiling water reactors, which will be designated as civilian facilities. India is currently importingsufficient amounts of low enriched uranium (LEU) to fuel the Tarapur reactors. Thesereactors could have otherwise absorbed the RMP’s capacity.As a result of its recently acquired ability to import LEU, India can devote the enrichmentcapacity of RMP to highly enriched uranium (HEU) for military applications. Indiawould most likely use the HEU for fuel in submarine reactors and in thermonuclear weapons. The production of thermonuclear weapons may lead India to conductadditional underground nuclear tests as it seeks to make more deliverable, reliable, andefficient weapons.
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Susan Basu is an ISIS consultant. During the preparation of this report, Basu was a full-time employee of ISIS.
 
 Early Gas Centrifuge Effort
The Bhabha Atomic Research Center (BARC) at Mumbai created India’s first gascentrifuge facility. By 1986, this facility reportedly contained about 100 centrifugesoperating in a cascade and enriched uranium up to about two percent uranium 235.
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 Centrifuge research activities at BARC are believed to continue.In the early 1980s, India decided to build the larger facility near Mysore.
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The DAE’soriginal goal was reported to have about 5,000 operating centrifuges at RMP, buttechnical problems prevented them from reaching this goal.
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Construction of RMP, 1986
By 1986, the DAE began construction of the RMP at a remote site approximately 19kilometers outside of Mysore.
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Figure 1 is a commercial satellite image of the RMP fromApril 25, 2005.
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 By mid-1987, the DAE sought contractors to install electrical wiring, street lighting andlightning protection. The DAE has not revealed RMP’s official commission date, but it is believed to be about 1990.Since 1984, India has procured for RMP through the DAE “front company” Indian RareEarths (IRE) Ltd. IRE does not have the technical expertise to build or operate a gascentrifuge plant and is publicly responsible for mining and refining rare earths. In reality,BARC oversaw the personnel and operations of RMP. While IRE mentioned RMP in its public procurement advertisements from 1984 to 1985, it began omitting the phrase“RMP” from these advertisements after 1985. Except for an apparent mistake in 2004,IRE’s public advertisements to buy equipment did not make further reference to RMP or Mysore.India depended extensively on foreign procurement of equipment and materials for theRMP. BARC personnel frequently traveled to Europe to arrange and oversee procurement of key items for RMP from suppliers. Senior BARC official, Shri
2
Ivan Fera and Kannan Srinivasan, “Keeping the Nuclear Option Open, What it Really Means,” Economicand Political Weekly, vol. 21, no. 49, December 6, 1986.
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“Keeping the Nuclear Option Open,” op. cit.
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“Keeping the Nuclear Option Open,” op. cit. This source states that the RMP will be scaled up fifty timesfrom the pilot plant at BARC.
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At this time, RMP’s procurement company placed orders for outdoor piping for utilities and service linesat the site.
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A 1988 advertisement from Indian Rare Earths invited a contractor to build a facility at RMP, calledBuilding Number 10. The advertisement specified that the construction would take place 19 kilometersfrom Mysore on Hunsur Road. An IRE advertisement dated September 2000 mentioned RMP explicitlyand specified the construction of a new pulsed power secure fence with a total length of 2,500 meters. Thecircumference of the outer fence of the facility in the image is about 2,500 meters and the facility in theimage is 19 kilometers west of Mysore on Hunsur Road.
 
Bishweswar Bhattacharjee, arranged procurements for RMP and was the liaison betweenBARC, IRE and European suppliers. Another major BARC participant in the European purchases in the 1980s was T.K. Bera, who was a senior manager of RMP in the 1990s.Beginning in 1985, RMP began to receive manufacturing equipment and materials fromGerman, Swiss, and French companies. During this period, overseas procurements for RMP included a flow-forming machine from Leifeld, a currently defunct German firmthat was capable of producing equipment to make maraging steel centrifuge rotors. Indiasought vacuum pumps, valves, vacuum measuring equipment, vacuum furnaces, a massspectrometer, welding equipment, including an electron-beam welding machine, andsmall items that can be used as subcomponents for motor stators and centrifuge bearings.IRE ordered sufficient amounts and types of equipment for a plant containing thousandsof centrifuges. This capacity is consistent with media reports at the time. BARC or Indian contractors and manufacturers may have made major centrifuge components inIndia, although the manufacturing equipment and some of the raw materials came fromabroad.India restricted foreign suppliers’ access to RMP facilities, probably to prevent thesuppliers from gaining information about the centrifuges at RMP. In the late 1980s, for example, a foreign supplier’s technician went to India to fix equipment that his companyhad improperly manufactured. The Indians brought the equipment outside RMP to aguest house and the technician fixed the equipment there.Available information about DAE centrifuges shows that its centrifuges are similar tocentrifuges developed by the European gas centrifuge consortium Urenco. It is unknownwhether India used only publicly available information about Urenco’s centrifuges or somehow obtained sensitive centrifuge design information. European suppliers may have provided India with centrifuge designs or information about designing centrifugecascades, in particular cascade piping arrangements and feed and withdrawal stations.Items sought by India in the 1980s appeared to be for auxiliary systems that lookedsimilar to ones used in Urenco plants.In at least one case, India procured through individuals who also played key roles in theillicit nuclear trading network led by the Pakistani A. Q. Khan. In the late 1980s andearly 1990s, according to the 2005 South African indictment of Daniel Geiges andGerhard Wisser issued by the Transvaal Provincial Division of the High Court of SouthAfrica, Wisser, the founder and former head of Krisch Engineering, “commissioned oneof his employees to produce flow meter units which were specifically designed for auranium hexafluoride application” and had them delivered to India. The fact that the unitswere suitable for use with uranium hexafluoride strongly implies their intended use in theIndian gas centrifuge program. Because the customer encountered problems with theunits, Wisser sent the employee to India to make adjustments. South African courtdocuments also raise the possibility that Krisch Engineering arranged for the delivery of other sensitive items to the Indian centrifuge program, including vacuum measuringequipment and feed and withdrawal equipment for centrifuge cascades.

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